Arkansas Football: Liberty loss leaves season in limbo

We tried to keep yesterday’s preview article short and sweet. Simply put, the game against Liberty was a must-win contest for Arkansas football if they had any realistic shot at finishing the season above .500.

Liberty came into Fayetteville yesterday and beat the Razorbacks 21-19, dropping Arkansas football to 5-4 on the season with matchups against LSU (who just beat Alabama) and Ole Miss on the horizon before closing the year in Columbia, Missouri.

What happens after you lose a must-win game? Unfortunately, that is the question now facing Arkansas football.

The game never felt as close as the final score. And, sure, you can question whether or not the Hogs were successful on that final two-point conversion, but in our cores, we all know it doesn’t matter.

Arkansas football and their much-ballyhooed offensive line struggled to control the line of scrimmage for most of the day, leading to 14 tackles for loss by Liberty. KJ Jefferson and Raheim Sanders combined for 96 yards on 33 carries (2.9 ypc).

You can say what you want about Kendal Briles, but the man has established a rushing attack with those two for much of the season. When that attack is absent, though, the entire offense crumbles. Unfortunately, that is precisely what we saw for three quarters yesterday.

Speaking of Briles, he and defensive coordinator Barry Odom probably need to start sweating. I’m not advocating that either of them should lose their job, but Arkansas football feels headed to a 5-7 (2-6) season, and fans will want answers.

As I predicted yesterday, the grumbling around head coach Sam Pittman has also gotten louder following yesterday’s loss. The refrain is, “he’s good, but he won’t ever make Arkansas football elite.”

Again, I don’t think I’m there yet, especially if he can hold a top-20 recruiting class together. However, one of his coordinators may have to serve as a scapegoat to buy back some goodwill between Pittman and the fanbase.

The other way to resurrect the good vibes would be to win two of these final three games somehow. 7-5, while a step back from last season’s nine-win record, would feel a heck of a lot better than 5-7.

It would feel better. It just doesn’t feel realistic. Like me retiring from education to play in the NBA. Sure, it’s a great career move, but I’m 36, 5’7″, and already have a bad knee. I guess it’s technically possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening.

The likeliest outcome? Arkansas football loses the next two at home but beats Missouri to get to 6-6 and bowl eligibility. Pittman then makes at least one change at coordinator this offseason.

Whatever happens the rest of the season, that undefeated start and Top-10 ranking feels like years ago. Pittman’s job isn’t (and shouldn’t be) in jeopardy after yesterday, but some of the sheen has worn off Mr. Ol’ Col’ Beers.